Learning to Freedive Can Make You a Better Scuba Diver

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Photo Credit:  Jayhem, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Freediving is all the rage these days. An ancient way of hunting that humans have been practicing since the dawn of history, freediving today is experiencing a renaissance as a recreational pursuit and is often cited as one of the fastest-growing watersports worldwide. If you are a scuba diver, do yourself a favor and jump on the freediving bandwagon. The fundamental skills you learn in freediving can be applied to scuba diving in several ways that will help you become a more skilled, confident and, ultimately, better scuba diver:

#1 Freediving Teaches Basic Skills Before Learning how to Scuba

Learning to freedive before scuba diving can help prepare new scuba divers for what is to come. Decades ago, when scuba diving was first coming into its own as a sport, basic freediving skills were a requirement for learning how to scuba dive. While it is no longer mandatory, some scuba instructors to this day spend the first pool session of their open water courses teaching skills that do not focus on scuba diving at all.

Learning to freedive first can help to familiarize new students with basic scuba gear. One of first skills taught in the open water scuba course is how to clear your mask of water at depth. This is also a necessary skill taught by the freediving course and learning to do it without being outfitted in bulky scuba gear can make it easier to perfect.

Proper finning techniques are also essential for freedivers, who need to maximize the amount of movement they get out of each kick. Freediving will force divers to swim more efficiently and get more out of their dive. Efficient finning will also lengthen a scuba diver’s dive and helps preventing errant fins from damaging marine environments or kicking out a buddy’s regulator.

Finally, freediving teaches about neutral buoyancy and reducing drag, two skills that will help you prepare for what you can expect in a scuba diving training and adopt a proper diving style from the get-go.

#2 Freediving Breathing Techniques Improve Air Consumption Efficiency

New divers are notorious for going through their air quickly—think 30-minute dive times at less than 18-meter/60-foot depth—and it can take some time and experience for newbies to gain control of their breathing. Scuba divers can lengthen their bottom times by learning breathing techniques from freediving.

Without the luxury of a steady air supply, freedivers must master advanced breathing techniques to get the most out of that one breath. Scuba divers who learn these techniques will consume their air more efficiently when diving with a gas tank. Being aware of their breathing frequency and depth, scuba divers can lower their gas consumption, combat fatigue, and relax better, ultimately leading to longer bottom times and fewer disappointed dive buddies.

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#3 Freediving Teaches Advanced Equalization Techniques

Just like scuba divers, freedivers must learn how to equalize the air spaces in their ear cavities, sinuses and masks due to increased water pressure at depth. In fact, because freedivers have less air to work with and descend much faster than scuba divers, they usually employ more advanced methods for equalizing than scuba divers do.

The two main ways to equalize are called the Valsalva and Frenzel manoeuvres. Typically, scuba divers only learn the Valsalva manoeuvre, which involves closing off your mouth, pinching your nose, and exhaling against the closed airways, thereby forcing air into your Eustachian tube. While this technique is mostly sufficient for recreational scuba diving, it causes strain on the lungs and requires more air. Plus, it becomes problematic between 20–30 meters/65–100 feet as your lungs get more and more compressed.

The Frenzel manoeuvre, by contrast, only requires the air in your mouth to complete. It is the primary technique used by freedivers and merely requires you to pinch your nose and push the air into your Eustachian tube with your tongue (as when forming a ‘t’ without pronouncing it), which is a lot more efficient. Scuba divers who learn this advanced equalization technique will be better prepared to overcome equalization problems at depth. That means no more cancelled dives due to unbearable ear pain.

#4 Freediving Makes You Move More Efficiently in the Water

If you’ve ever seen a freediver swim, you must have noticed how gracefully they move. Because freedivers need to make the most out of every breath, they need to master a range of movements that will make it easier for you to manoeuvre underwater, even with a heavy scuba kit.

Freedivers learn finning and swimming techniques that help them move efficiently in the water so that they expend the least amount of energy possible and preserve valuable oxygen. Aware of any dangling equipment and body positions, freedivers also learn how to minimize drag and streamline their bodies.

Scuba divers who master these techniques will find themselves finning less, gliding more and moving more naturally in the water. As result, they will use less energy and consume their air more efficiently.

Freediving can also help you control your buoyancy, by teaching you how to use your breathing to fine tune your buoyancy. By using controlled breaths, divers can learn to ascend with an inhale and descend with an exhale. The more practice you gain using breathing techniques, the more likely you are to perfect the all-important skill of buoyancy control.

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Photo Credit:  Jayhem, licensed under CC BY 2.0

#5 Freediving Helps You Stay in Control

Perhaps the most important and lasting benefit of learning to freedive is the control it gives you over your body and mind while underwater. Much of the open-water scuba course focuses on getting used to your equipment. With freediving, most of the course focuses on preparing your mind and body for a dive.

Freediving puts immense physical strain on your body and requires intense mental strength to overcome the urge to breathe that inevitably arises during a freedive. Like yoga, it is a physical activity that requires you to be in a calm and relaxed state. As a result, a significant portion of the freediving certification course focuses on teaching relaxation techniques that help freedivers stay focused, relaxed and calm. Some techniques include stretching before a dive, pre-breathing to stretch the diaphragm, and using mental discipline to resist the urge to breathe. Some freedivers engage in yoga and other external activities to prepare their bodies for diving.

The same techniques can be used by scuba divers. Being calm, relaxed and in control while diving helps scuba divers prepare for adverse situations that may arise at depth—for example, losing your mask or having your regulator pop out of your mouth in the middle of a dive. Divers who are calm, relaxed and in control are less likely to panic if something goes wrong.

Give it a Try, You Won’t Free-gret it!

If you are a scuba diver thinking about trying freediving, you should. If you are not a scuba diver, consider starting with freediving. By learning to freedive, you will learn breathing techniques that will help improve your air consumption. You will learn to move more comfortably and naturally in the water. You will become more adept at equalizing and more relaxed underwater. Any type of physical training that you do for freediving will only complement your abilities when you next don your scuba gear and take the plunge.

by Ryan Patrick Jones